Bikers and Walkers Want More Space in Midtown

The fifth and sixth forward campaign wants to make more space for everyone
who lives, works and travels in midtown.
Image Courtesy Planning Corp

Smack dab in the center of New York City’s official bike map is a Midtown-sized hole that needs filling. That’s the consensus of just about every cyclist who has ever braved the concrete rectangle bordered by Madison Square, Central Park, 7th Avenue and Lexington. Inside of that 750-acre area—one of the most crowded quadrants in the city—is a dearth of safe space for bikers, and walkers as well.

If a growing group of community activists, business owners and other local stakeholders have their way, that’s all about to change. This past August, Transportation Alternatives joined with volunteers and community members to launch the 5th & 6th Forward campaign, which aims to make more room for the hundreds of millions of residents, workers, shoppers and tourists who bike, walk and take transit through Midtown Manhattan every year.

The simple solution, the group says, is to expand pedestrian space and build protected bike lanes along Fifth and Sixth avenues. According to the Department of Transportation, fatalities and injuries decline by roughly half for all street users—drivers, walkers and cyclists—when protected bike lanes are installed. On Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue, the installation of a protected bike lane decreased all injuries by 56 percent, injuries to pedestrians fell 29 percent, and injuries to bicyclists dropped 57 percent.

“The 5th & 6th Forward campaign is all about equality. Every street user should have safe space to move around,” said Janet Liff, a commercial real estate broker and T.A volunteer who is heading one of the campaign’s working groups.
Modeled on the successful campaign for protected bike lanes and pedestrian space along First and Second avenues, and armed with five years of safety data collected along the protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue, community members and Transportation Alternatives are presenting their case to businesses, residents, cultural institutions, neighborhood stakeholders, elected officials and the Department of Transportation.

“We have a very specific goal: to make Midtown’s streets work better for everyone, but we don’t have any plans set in stone,” said Liff.

Fifth and Sixth avenues south of 59th Street are two of the busiest avenues in New York City. Sixth Avenue is the most biked street in New York, and Fifth Avenue has the most bicycle traffic of any southbound avenue in Midtown. During rush hours on both streets, pedestrians are often forced to walk in the street to make up for inadequate sidewalk space.

“New Yorkers are biking and walking more everywhere, but particularly in Midtown. With tourist numbers high and bike share on the horizon, the City needs to get serious about making streets work well for everyone,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “5th & 6th Forward is the best way to do that.”